Steelers' T.J. Watt's Contract Extension Talks Discussed by DC amid Training Camp

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVAugust 8, 2021

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 29:  T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during training camp at Heinz Field on July 29, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers star edge-rusher T.J. Watt reported to training camp this summer amid contract extension negotiations but has yet to participate in any of the team periods at practice, instead sticking to individual drills and getting in work with the team's trainers.

And defensive coordinator Keith Butler seemed to suggest Saturday things wouldn't change in that regard until Watt and the team agreed to a contract extension.

"That's none of my business," he told reporters when asked about Watt's timeline to join those team sessions. "I hope he signs the contract and gets it done, and when he gets that done, we'll talk about that."

He continued:

"I don't blame him for that because you don't want to get hurt when you're trying to get your contract done. You kind of lose some flexibility in terms of what kind of contract you can sign. So, I don't blame him for that. I hope they get it done. As a former player rep for the players' association when I came out, I've always been for the players. I struck twice for the players. I knew I wasn't going to get the money that they get. I want them to make as much money as they can in this league. I think they deserve it."

The Steelers and Watt are on the clock, as the team has not traditionally negotiated extensions during the season. 

It's hard to imagine that the runner-up for the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year award isn't about to get paid, though. Watt, 26, was incredible last season, posting 53 tackles (23 for loss), 15 sacks, 41 quarterback hits, an interception, seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles. 

The five-year, $135 million contract Joey Bosa signed last summer with the Los Angeles Chargers set the market for the edge-rusher position with an average annual value of $27 million. That's the sort of money Watt is undoubtedly trying to secure, and the type of money he'll likely get. 

The question is whether it will come this summer or in the future. The one major point of leverage the Steelers hold is that they have the option to wait a year and hit Watt with the franchise tag. Technically they could do so for the 2023 season as well, though doing so a second time would be incredibly expensive. 

And even using the tag once on a franchise cornerstone runs the risk of souring the relationship. But if the Steelers aren't comfortable with Watt's asking price this summer, it's a card they have up their sleeve. 

Still, a long-term commitment is in the best interest of both sides. Watt wants his financial security, and the Steelers want one of the best and most disruptive defensive players in football around for the foreseeable future. 

"We'd like to get T.J.'s deal done, if we can, before the start of the season," Steelers president and owner Art Rooney II said this week. "That's the goal. ... I try not to get optimistic or pessimistic. I've seen these things go so many different ways over the years. We're just going to do our best, and I think both sides want to get something done, so that's always a good thing."